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In Venezuela, Washington, with Canada’s help, plays the same old regime change game

February 5, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has called Juan Guaidó, the self-declared interim president of Venezuela, a treasonous figurehead of a plot orchestrated by the United States to capture Venezuela’s vast oil reserves on behalf of wealthy US investors.

As a summary of what’s happening in the oil-rich South American country, Maduro couldn’t have done better.

As the Canadian Press reported, Canada and other members of the so-called Lima Group, an ad hoc body formed to oust Maduro, encouraged the opposition to find a new face without political baggage around whom it could unite. This is a standard US regime change tactic, previously used to attempt to bring about a change in government in Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe.

Venezuela’s opposition, comprised mainly of representatives of the middle and upper classes, selected Guaidó, a young unknown. One poll indicated that most Venezuelans had never heard of him.

Soon after being anointed as leader, Guaidó slipped into Washington to secretly meet with the Trump administration, presumably to secure its blessing.

Guaidó then hastened back to Venezuela where the opposition followed through on the Lima Group’s pre-arranged plan to elect the young unknown as head of the National Assembly. According to a recent poll, the assembly has a 70 percent disapproval rating.

Next, Guaidó declared himself president—also, one gathers, part of the pre-conceived Lima Group plan– arguing that Maduro’s election was fraudulent and that the presidency was therefore vacant.

If that isn’t enough to paint Guaidó as a treasonous figurehead of a plot orchestrated by Washington and Ottawa, consider this: According the Wall Street Journal, Guaidó’s plan for reviving the sanctions-crippled economy is to open Venezuela’s vast oil sector to foreign investment, privatize assets held by state enterprises, and indulge wealthy investors.

In other words, the US-Canadian agent plans to substantially scale back the public sector, surrender Venezuela’s economic sovereignty, and turn over the country’s vast treasure trove of natural resources to foreign investors.

Is it any surprise that the United States and Canada, home to big oil and big mining, have taken a leadership role in sponsoring him?

Carried through, Guaidó’s plan would re-Americanize the Venezuelan economy and reverse the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by Hugo Chavez and backed by Venezuela’s teeming poor.

US oil companies would benefit, a matter US national security adviser John Bolton alluded to in a recent television interview. Canadian mining companies would make off like bandits. And Venezuela’s economic elite would return to the good old days. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan people would find, once again, that they exist to make the wealthy wealthier.

The Lima Group is nothing more than an ad hoc assemblage of countries brought together for the sole purpose of overthrowing the Maduro government in order to open Venezuela’s oil and gold industries to ownership by wealthy US and Canadian investors.

It excludes the United States to disguise the obvious imperialist character of the project, and it deliberately excludes members of the Organization of American States who oppose the blatant interference in a member’s internal affairs.

And here’s a warning.

Venezuela is only the first of three Latin American countries the United States is targeting for regime change, according to US administration officials. The other two are Cuba and Nicaragua, which, together with Venezuela, make up what the administration calls a Troika of Tyranny, but in reality represent states engaged in the project of putting the interests of their own populations ahead of those of North American businesses. The administration says that “the attempt to force out the president of Venezuela” marks “the opening of a new strategy to exert greater US influence over Latin America.”

The United States is no stranger to overthrowing governments. In the twentieth century, Washington undertook 41 successful regime change interventions in the hemisphere, an average of one every two and a half years. And that doesn’t count the unsuccessful ones, like the Bay of Pigs invasion.

In this century, the United States, working with Canada, overthrew left-wing governments in Haiti in 2004 and Honduras in 2009, and tried but failed to overthrow Hugo Chavez in 2002. The narrative of the failed overthrow of Chavez anticipated the one Washington and its Lima Group co-conspirators are using today—the president’s policies no longer work for Venezuelans and the people are rising to defend democracy.

We’ve heard it all before.

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Written by what's left

February 5, 2019 at 1:32 am

Posted in Venezuela

Chomsky Venezuela Statement: A Stronger Alternative

January 26, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

A lot of good people signed the statement opposing US interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs, posted at Venezuelanalysis.com on January 24, but one wonders whether they gave the particulars of the statement sufficient thought.

The Chomsky et al statement called on Washington to cease interfering in Venezuela’s internal politics, “especially for the purpose of overthrowing the country’s government.” Excellent. But it should have added a call to support the Maduro government’s project of overcoming Venezuela’s racial and socioeconomic oppression. And stopped there.

Instead, it proposed US intervention in the form of support for what it defined as “the only solution”: negotiations to resolve the country’s longstanding racial and socioeconomic divisions. Thus, the statement defined division (that is, conflict), and not racial and socioeconomic oppression, as Venezuela’s core problem.

The proposal that the United States sponsor negotiations is problematic.

First, the question of negotiations is one for Venezuelans to decide. If sovereignty means anything, then a people has the right to choose the methods by which it resolves its problems, free from outsiders telling it how it ought to be done.

What’s more, the proposal calls to mind Western-sponsored negotiations to resolve the so-called Palestinian-Israeli conflict. How well has that worked out? And what is the end state sought: justice for the oppressed, or only their quiescence?

Second, negotiation implies conceding ground to a racial and socioeconomic elite that wants to continue its exploitation of the majority. If that’s how Venezuelans, together, wish to proceed, fine. But the idea that all conflicts can or ought to be resolved through negotiation is naïve. The statement’s drafters appear to be more interested in averting violence than achieving justice.

Imagine a slave rebellion, in which the slave owners are supported by a foreign state, and the citizens of that state call on their government to end its intervention on the side of the slave owners, but at the same time call on their government to sponsor negotiations between the slaves and slave owners to find a solution to the ongoing crisis and the country’s racial and socioeconomic divisions. Would these foreign citizens be calling for an end to the injustice of slavery or an end to the violence of rebellion?

While it begins strongly, the statement ends by standing for nothing; certainly not for the Maduro government and its aims. Nor does it stand against anything, except (though importantly) against a US supported coup d’état, but not against all intervention. Intervention of the kind that leads to a negotiated stalemate in a struggle against racial and socioeconomic oppression and the continuation of injustice is deemed desirable.

The following statement would have been stronger.

o The US government should cease its efforts to overthrow the Maduro government.
o The US government should provide what reasonable assistance it can to the Maduro government’s requests for aid in carrying out its program of overcoming the racial and socioeconomic oppression that has afflicted Venezuela for far too long.

Stronger still would have been a statement that made these points:

o The Maduro government has worked to put the interests of ordinary Venezuelans ahead of those of foreign investors;
o The opposition, backed by Western governments, has sought to frustrate those aims;
o Now the United States and a number of other countries are encouraging a coup d’etat;
o If successful, a coup d’état will lead to a rightwing government that will implement policies that indulge foreign investors and treat ordinary Venezuelans harshly; Venezuela’s longstanding racial and socioeconomic oppression will continue;
o We stand with the Maduro government’s efforts to build a society and economy that puts the needs of the majority of Venezuela’s citizens first;
o At the same time, we oppose the efforts of the United States and its allies to impede, undermine and eliminate the Maduro government’s program to end the racial and socioeconomic oppression that has afflicted Venezuela for far too long.

Written by what's left

January 26, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Venezuela

US-Led Efforts to Overthrow Maduro Spurred by Business Interests, Not Democracy

January 24, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

The US-led and coordinated intervention to overthrow Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro by recognizing Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly as the interim president, has nothing whatever to do with restoring democracy in Venezuela (which was never overturned) and everything to do with promoting US business interests.

Washington’s imperial arrogance in effectively appointing Guaidó as president, attempting to go over the heads of Venezuelans—who alone have the right to decide who their leaders are—is motivated by the same concerns that have motivated other US interventions around the world: toppling governments that put their citizens’ interests above those of US investors.

That Washington has a propensity to engage in destabilization operations against leftwing governments is hardly a secret. From 1898 to 2004, the US government undertook 41 successful regime change interventions in Latin America, an average of one every two-and-a-half years. And that excludes the unsuccessful ones, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion.

In almost every instance, US regime change interventions around the world have been motivated either directly or indirectly by commercial considerations, and were undertaken to restore or protect the primacy of US business interests in foreign lands. And in many cases, the interventions paved the way for the installation of rightwing dictatorships.

One ultimately unsuccessful US intervention was the 2002 coup d’état against Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor. Washington immediately recognized the coup, hailing it as a victory for democracy, but privately recognized it as a major win for US business interests in an oil-rich state teeming with potential profit-making opportunities for US free enterprise.

Washington disliked Chavez because the charismatic leftist leader promoted the welfare of ordinary Venezuelans, rather than pandering to US investors. But the coup against Chavez was short-lived. In a blow against tyranny, the regime change was quickly reversed and Chavez, the country’s legitimate leader, was restored to the presidency.

Determined to eliminate leftist governments in Latin America, Washington stepped up its campaign of economic warfare against the South American country, aiming to plunge its economy into ruin and the Venezuelan people into misery. This was a game plan Washington had followed countless times before and since, in China, Cuba, North Korea, Chile, Zimbabwe, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, and Iran: ruin the target country’s economy, attribute the chaos to “the failures of socialism” and economic mismanagement, and wait for the people to rise in revolt against their misery.

The idea that Washington’s intervention in Venezuela has even the slightest connection to protecting democracy is laughable. The US government has notoriously supported a string of rightwing dictatorships throughout Latin America, including that of Augusto Pinochet, who was installed in the wake of a 1973 US-engineered coup against Salvador Allende. Allende crossed Washington by doing what Maduro, and a host of other Third World leaders, had done: put the interests of the local population ahead of those of corporate America.

In the Middle East, the United States’s closest Arab allies are a military dictatorship (Egypt) and absolutist monarchies, chief among them Saudi Arabia, whose abhorrence of democracy is absolute. Washington rewards Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid annually, and robustly supports the Saudi tyranny.

Saudis regard their parasitical royal family as completely unacceptable. To protect itself from its own population, the monarchy maintains a 250,000 troop-strong National Guard. The Guard exists, not to defend Saudi Arabia from external aggression, but to protect the monarchy from its own subjects. The al-Saud family’s protectors are trained and equipped by the United States and its satellites, including Canada, which has a $10-billion contract to supply the force with armored personnel carriers, used to put down the frequent uprisings of disgruntled Saudi subjects.

The National Guard’s armorer, Canada, also recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, dishonestly attributing its decision to follow the US-lead to its purported commitment to democracy. Ottawa has colluded with the dictators of Riyadh in their crackdown on long-suffering, democracy-deprived, Saudi citizens, at the same time supporting General Dynamics Canada’s efforts to rake in Pharaonic profits from arms sales to the democracy-hating Saudi despots.

Let’s be honest about a few things.

First, the agendas of US and Canadian political leaders are set by the economic elites and organized business interests on which they depend for campaign contributions, policy recommendations, and lucrative post political career job opportunities, and with which they’re tightly integrated personally and professionally. Accordingly, they care about the profits of US and Canadian investors, not about the welfare, freedoms or democracy of ordinary Venezuelans. Indeed, they secretly harbor contempt for the bulk of their own citizens and wouldn’t, for a moment, tolerate the flowering of an authentic, robust, democracy in their own countries. The idea that they care about the residents of a distant South American land is a fantasy for political innocents and the weakly naïve.

Second, US-led campaigns of economic warfare do make people’s lives miserable, and many people may attribute their misery to the actions of their own government and wish to see it step down. Others may recognize that sanctions are the cause of their misery, and may support regime change as a way of winning relief from foreign-imposed misery. Indeed, the logic of economic warfare depends on these assumptions being true.

Third, governments threatened by foreign-sponsored regime change face legitimate national emergencies. Maduro is not a dictator. He is the elected head of a government confronting a genuine national emergency engineered by hostile foreign powers. Measures taken by the government to defend its citizens against the determination of the United States to impose on Venezuela policies which cater to the interests of corporate America at Venezuelans’ expense are wholly legitimate; they represent the actions of a democracy against a US-led international tyranny.

It is important to remember that Maduro’s government, like Chavez’s, has sought to put the interests of ordinary Venezuelans ahead of those of US investors. As a result, it has provoked Washington’s enmity. The US intervention in Venezuela in recognizing Guaidó as interim president is emblematic of countless other US regime change interventions. Invariably, these interventions are targeted at leftwing governments that threaten the profit making interests of US businesses. The interventions have nothing whatever to do with democracy; on the contrary, where successful, they are almost always followed by rightwing regimes that build US investor-friendly business climates and integrate their countries economically, militarily, and diplomatically into the US-superintended and Wall Street-led global order. Foreign investors are indulged, and the local population is treated harshly. Far from spurring transitions to democracy, US regime change interventions aim to reverse democracy, and strengthen US global tyranny. The latest US-led intervention in Venezuela is no different, and is just a repeat, with local variations, on similar efforts in Syria, Iran, Cuba and North Korea.

Written by what's left

January 24, 2019 at 11:15 pm

Chavez’s Enemies Hand Him His Greatest Tribute: Defamation

with 8 comments

By Stephen Gowans

The mass media’s near universal defamation of Hugo Chavez, presumably to counter the outpouring of eulogies and tributes that attended the Venezuelan president’s death, illustrates the lengths to which the wealthy (in whose hands the mass media repose) will go to vilify anyone who commits the highest international crime: curbing free enterprise.

To say that the anti-Chavez obloquies have been over the top would hardly be an exaggeration. Author and journalist Terry Glavin, whose credentials as a propagandist on behalf of the capitalist faith have been solidly affirmed by his loosing possibly the most extreme diatribe against Chavez ever written, assures us the Bolivarian revolutionary was “a sadistic, egomaniacal thug,” a “megalomaniac” at the center of an “autocracy,” who left “millions of Venezuelans living in fear of the knock on the door in the night.” (“Hugo Chavez, incompetent fake socialist,” The Ottawa Citizen, March 7, 2013.)

Sparing no slur, Glavin adds “strongman” and “hysterical paranoid” to his Himalaya of affronts against the deceased Venezuelan president, at the same time accusing Chavez of creating a police state where “an off-the-cuff remark could land you in jail.” Glavin, needless to say, doesn’t trouble himself to marshal any evidence to support his slanders, and his editors apparently didn’t ask him to either.

To explain away the difficulties of smearing the four-time elected Chavez as a dictator, Gavin invokes the concept of the “glorious contradiction, as in “…a deep contradiction was always at the heart of the Chavez pathology. Venezuela under his rule became ‘a glorious contradiction—an autocracy with a popular, elected megalomaniac at its center.’” This is the same glorious contradiction that once turned Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, an ardent friend of free enterprise, the wealthy, and Wall Street, into a champion of democracy. Here’s how it works: If the characterization contradicts the evidence, so much worse for the evidence.

In the hands of the mass media, then, a popularly elected socialist is demonized as an autocratic thug, while a servant of the super-rich who comes to power in a military coup that topples a socialist government is hailed as a democrat. The same logic allows the United States and its circle of free-enterprise, free-market-promoting allies to rail and plot against a secular Arab nationalist in Syria on grounds his rule is an affront to democracy, while propping up Arab autocracies in the Persian Gulf who are running guns to religious fanatics bent on bringing down the same secular forces that happen to put local interests ahead of Wall Street’s.

The contradictions—hardly glorious—should disabuse leftists who haven’t already been disabused of the illusion that securing a popular mandate at the polls confers an immunity against defamation by the wealthy class’s ideological prizefighters, an important element of which are mainstream writers and journalists. By the same token, failing to secure a popular mandate will hardly earn you a thrashing in the Western press so long as you subordinate local interests and those of the oppressed, afflicted, and exploited to the foreign interests of comfortable bankers on Wall Street and oil company executives in Texas.

No matter how they come to power, effective leftist and nationalist leaders will be smeared as “thugs,” “strongmen,” “autocrats,” and “paranoids,” by Wall Street’s ideological handmaidens. Ineffective leftist leaders and false messiahs (Polish trade union Solidarity and Mikhail Gorbachev come to mind) will be celebrated. In southern Africa, Robert Mugabe, who democratized patterns of land ownership, has received the same demonizing treatment at the hands of imperialist ideologues as Chavez has, while Nelson Mandela, whose revolution left property relations intact, is celebrated.

It might be worthwhile, then, to consider whether other leaders of popular causes, who themselves have been run through the mass media demonization machine, are as bad as the imperial class’s ideological prizefighters have made them out to be. If the four-time elected social reformer Chavez can be turned into a sadistic, egomaniacal thug at the center of an autocracy, imagine the extremes that defenders of capitalist privilege will go (and have gone) to vilify leaders who, in their championing the interests of the poor and exploited, pose (and have posed) an even greater threat than Chavez did to free enterprise, free markets and domination by capitalist masters from abroad.

Written by what's left

March 7, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Posted in Venezuela

In Venezuela, an Unfair Vote, or Democracy for the Many?

with 3 comments

Vladimir Lenin used to say that there’s no all-inclusive democracy that serves all people and all classes equally. Democracy is a class affair, serving whichever class has state power. Talking of democracy in the abstract, of pure democracy, or democracy above class, is a mistake.

This follows a Marxist critique of capitalist democracy. Capitalist democracies are, according to some Marxists, democracies for the capitalist class, the fraction of the one percent that includes major investors, titans of finance and captains of industry who derive their income from the exploitation of others’ labor (which is to say through rents, profits and interest.)

This doesn’t mean that members of this elite control the outcomes of elections, but they do exercise outsize influence over them.

For example, its members own, and have control over most of the media, and hence are in a position to shape public opinion.

There is a sense too in which they own and have control over most of the politicians. By virtue of their great wealth, they are the major contributors to political campaigns. What’s more, they’re able to entice politicians to act in their interests by promising them lucrative jobs when their careers in politics are over.

They’re also able to extort electoral outcomes by stirring up fears that voting for parties that are against their interests will cost people their jobs. This is done by threatening to move investments to friendlier jurisdictions if a party is elected that is against their interests.

Also, people who work for private businesses—a substantial part of the electorate in capitalist democracies–may fear that openly campaigning for anti-capitalist parties will put their jobs at risk. As a consequence, they’re cowed into remaining on the political sidelines.

Additionally, the superrich can foster allegiance to parties of private property by using their vast wealth to buy the hearts and minds of voters.

And then there’s the ultimate assurance that the interests of the economic elite will be safeguarded against the danger of their parties losing an election: the intervention of the military.

For all these reasons, elections in capitalist democracies—while they may be deemed free—are heavily stacked in favor of the class of financiers and owners of major enterprises who use their dominant economic positions to influence the outcomes.

Despite this, the view that democracies are always democracies for the class in power is not widely held. And the analysis remains, for the most part, foreign to large parts of the organized left, as well. Instead, the dominant view is that as long as there are two or more parties to choose from, and the state remains neutral, elections will be fair and independent of class.

Do capitalists believe this nonsense? Not at all. Always conscious of themselves as a class and acutely aware of their position and power, captains of industry and titans of finance recognize that if they are knocked from their perch at the top of society, the chances that their parties will prevail in electoral contests are vanishingly small. In a democracy for the many—what in Marxist terms might be called “the dictatorship of the proletariat”—they haven’t a chance.

To make my point, I cite Jose de Cordoba’s February 14 Wall Street Journal article on Venezuela’s general election, scheduled for later this year. Cordoba presents a class conscious analysis to declare that the upcoming election will be free but unfair, unfair because the electoral advantages normally enjoyed by the top one percent are, this time, all on the side of the bottom 99 percent.

These advantages derive from the control that the many of Venezuela have over state-owned enterprises, state-owned media and the military, through their representative Hugo Chavez and the United Socialist Party he leads.

Cordoba notes that control of the state gives Chavez “many advantages over Mr. Capriles,” the scion of a wealthy family who will contest the presidency in October on behalf of the united opposition—and who, if elected, will reverse Chavez’s majority-friendly reforms in favor of restoring ownership of the economy and control of the state to the privileged few. According to the Wall Street Journal reporter these advantages include:

• “Control over most mass media.”
• “Access to billions of dollars…to buy the hearts and minds of poor voters.”
• Stirring “the widely held fears” that a vote for the opposition will cost public servants their jobs.
• The fears of employees of state-owned enterprises that “they would lose their jobs if they were identified as opposition voters.”
• Intervention “in the elections (by the military) if the president were in danger of losing.”

Part of this is speculative. We don’t know if the military would intervene to rescue a failing Chavez election campaign. But significantly, these are the very same advantages that the capitalist class enjoys in most capitalist democracies. Cordoba, as far as I know, has never complained about the owners of capital enjoying parallel advantages in other elections, so why complain about the other side enjoying the same advantages now?

The reason is because democracy, as it operates in capitalist countries, is supposed to benefit the capitalist class. It shouldn’t act in the interests of the many–and usually doesn’t.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t exceptions. Capitalist democracy didn’t prevent Chavez from being elected president. Still, a coup did follow.

Once the media and schools, the economy, and the military are brought under public control by a party whose allegiances lie with the exploited many against the exploiting few, democracy becomes authentic, and is no longer a means for the superrich to use their money power to buy the outcome.

All the same, it may seem to those in whom the idea has been instilled that democracy is above class that Chavez’s advantages are unfair. But consider the alternatives.

If not public control over the media, then private control by the wealthiest citizens, who can shape public opinion to suit their interests.

If not public control of enterprises, then an effective dictatorship of private owners over the economic (and therefore also political) lives of the many.

If not a military politicized to safeguard the interests of the exploited many against the exploiting few, then a military politicized to safeguard the interests of the exploiters.

The Wall Street Journal isn’t agitated because October’s election in Venezuela won’t be an exercise in democracy in the abstract. The newspaper and the class that owns it and on whose behalf it speaks is agitated because democracy in Venezuela is becoming what it was always meant to be: rule by the many—not a democracy of the few.

Written by what's left

February 17, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Posted in Democracy, Venezuela

The Responsibility of Intellectuals

with 21 comments

By Stephen Gowans

An article by reporter Rory Carroll in last Sunday’s Observer titled “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy” has set off a storm of controversy among Chomsky and Chavez supporters.

Some, angry at the leftist intellectual for criticizing the Venezuelan president, demanded an explanation. Chomsky replied that Carroll’s article was “dishonest” and “deceptive.”

But a transcript of the interview—which Chomsky told one blogger did not exist—suggests it is Chomsky, not Carroll, who is dishonest and deceptive.

“Let’s begin with the headline: complete deception,” Chomsky replies to one blogger.

Really?

Here’s what Chomsky told the Observer reporter.

Carroll. Finally, professor, the concerns about the concentration of executive power in Venezuela: to what extent might that be undermining democracy in Venezuela?

Chomsky: Concentration of executive power, unless it’s very temporary, and for specific circumstances, let’s say fighting world war two, it’s an assault on democracy (my emphasis).

Carroll: And so in the case of Venezuela is that what’s happening or at risk of happening?

Chomsky: As I said you can debate whether circumstances require it—both internal circumstances and the external threat of attack and so on, so that’s a legitimate debate—but my own judgment in that debate is that it does not.

Earlier in the interview Chomsky told Carroll that, “Anywhere in Latin America there is a potential threat of the pathology of caudillismo and it has to be guarded against. Whether it’s over too far in that direction in Venezuela I’m not sure but I think perhaps it is” (my emphasis).

So, Chomsky tells Carroll that concentration of executive power is an assault on democracy, that there’s a tendency toward concentration in Venezuela, and that in his judgment the circumstances don’t require it.

So how is it that the headline “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy” is deceptive and dishonest? Granted, Chavez might not be an old friend, at least not in the literal sense, but the Observer headline hardly seems to misrepresent Chomsky’s words.

Now, we can go around in circles about whether Carroll fairly or dishonestly recounted his conversation with Chomsky (though it looks like the dishonesty here isn’t Carroll’s), but anyone who insists that Chomsky didn’t criticize Chavez is going to have to do a fair amount of straw clutching. Yes, the leftist intellectual did criticize Washington in his interview with Carroll, and he did point out all the good that has happened in Venezuela (which Carroll acknowledges in his article.) But so what? That doesn’t negate Chomsky’s open criticism of Chavez — which is what a number of Chavez partisans are agitated about.

The occasion for the interview was Chomsky’s open letter criticizing the detention of Judge Maria Lourdes Affiuni. Affiuni had freed banker Eligio Cedeno in 2009. Cedeno, who had faced corruption charges, immediately fled the country. Chavez denounced the judge as a criminal and demanded that she be jailed for 30 years.

We can debate whether Chavez’s treatment of Affiuni is heavy-handed, but it doesn’t take a high-profile intellectual of Chomsky’s caliber to figure out that the establishment press will use all the ammunition it can lay its hands on to vilify Chavez, and the best ammunition of all is that which comes from the Left. It’s one thing for a US state official to raise concerns about Chavez. You expect it. It’s quite another for a leftist intellectual to do the same.

It might be said that Chomsky didn’t know the Observer would use his criticism to blacken Chavez’s reputation, but that would be dishonest and deceptive.  It’s hard to swallow the canard that poor old Noam–whose understanding of the media is second to none–blindly stumbled into an ambush. “I should know by now that I should insist on a transcript with the Guardian, unless it’s a writer I know and trust,” Chomsky lamented.

Yeah, right.

Media Lens, springing to Chomsky’s defense, noted perspicaciously that ‘the Guardian (the Observer’s sister newspaper) is normally happy to ignore (Chomsky) and his views. But when Chomsky expresses criticism of an official enemy of the West, he suddenly does exist and matter for the Guardian.”

But hadn’t the co-author of Manufacturing Consent figured this out long ago?

I think it would be fair to suppose he has. That he went ahead anyway, and allowed the press to add his criticisms of Chavez to what he himself calls the “vicious, unremitting attack by the United States and the west generally” on Venezuela, could mean one of two things.

Either Chomsky is a press-hound.

Or he’s not as much of a friend of Chavez as Carroll–and a good number of leftists-think.

Or both.

Written by what's left

July 6, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Posted in Media, Venezuela

Learning from color revolutions

with 3 comments

By Stephen Gowans

A common complaint made against critics of color revolutions, the Western-engineered insurrections that have brought neo-liberal governments to power in Serbia (the 5th October Overthrow), Georgia (the Rose Revolution), and Ukraine (the Orange Revolution), and have been attempted in Zimbabwe and Belarus, is that they err in minimizing the degree to which these revolutions are spontaneous, grass-roots-organized eruptions of popular anger against oppressive “regimes.”

One such defender of color revolutions, Philippe Duhamel, a “non-violent actionist (sic) and an educator for social change” takes issue with criticism of non-violence, pro-democracy activists who cheer on, and contribute to the organizing of, color revolutions (1). He argues that:

1. Criticism of such color revolution supporters as Stephen Zunes for his connections to ruling class foundations is unfair, and amounts to guilt by association; (2)
2. Color revolutions provide a model for non-violent social change in the West;
3. Anti-government mobilizations in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine were not imported from the West, but were grass-roots in origin.

Duhamel argues it is “possible for somebody to study the dynamics of popular revolutions and want to further nonviolent methods…without necessarily becoming a fan of the types of regime or rulers that emerge” – an implicit acknowledgement that the governments that have been swept to power by color revolutions, aided by “non-violent actionists and educators for social change,” are not the kinds of governments “pro-democracy” activists care to be associated with. No wonder. Western-directed uprisings have produced governments in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia committed to the Washington Consensus of harshness to the weak and indulgence to Western business interests. Considering that these uprisings have cleared the way for the ascension to power of governments that cater to the interests of the same Western governments and corporations that funded them (and hired the West’s docents of non-violent social change as color revolution advisors), they can hardly be said to be popular, progressive or democratic.

As regards studying color revolutions to apply their lessons to bringing about social change in the West, one must ask why it is that the model has enjoyed vaunted success in spring-boarding to power neo-liberal governments outside the West, but has failed to bring about a popular revolution in the West. (3) Color revolutions have relied heavily on funding from imperialist governments, ruling class foundations, and wealthy investors. (4) Western funding provides enormous advantages that genuine popular revolutions not aimed at serving imperialist goals struggle (usually unsuccessfully) to obtain. Obviously, Western governments and corporate foundations don’t fund revolutions in their own countries. (5) For this reason, color revolutions have been strictly non-Western phenomena.

In Serbia, where the 5th October Overthrow succeeded, and in Zimbabwe and Belarus, where Western governments and corporate foundations have worked to replicate the color revolutions of Georgia and Ukraine, economic warfare and threats of military intervention were, and are, important regime change inputs. They conduce to the success of anti-government uprisings by establishing regime change as a necessary condition for ending the crisis conditions economic warfare and threatened (or actual) military intervention create. Whether techniques of non-violent direct action are more effective than other means of bringing about revolutionary change under siege conditions is an open question. What is clear is that in Ukraine and Georgia, anti-government mobilizations were bankrolled, organized and assisted by Western governments, corporate foundations and billionaire investor George Soros. Could anti-government mobilizations succeed in toppling governments in the West without the strategic advice, polling, legal support, media infrastructure, public relations backing, legal expertise, civil disobedience training, leadership education, hiring of full-time organizers, creation of unified political opposition parties, unqualified media support, and mountains of spending money that Western governments and corporate foundations have showered on color revolutionaries outside the West?

Duhamel and other pro-democracy non-violence activists argue that major social mobilizations cannot be created on demand from a socio-economic vacuum or imported from the US, but critics of color revolutions haven’t tried to make this case. The argument they make is that engineered uprisings depend on three critical inputs: a crisis (induced by economic warfare, actual or threatened military intervention, or related to the impugned legitimacy of an election); an understanding that relief from the crisis is contingent on removal of the government; and a united political opposition working with an interlocked civil society apparatus pursuing clear and specific goals related to removal of the government. (6) The idea that popular uprisings of sufficient mass and coherence to topple governments arise spontaneously is a pleasant thought, but fatally minimizes the necessity of crises, the establishment of a contingent relation between ending the crisis and overthrowing the government, and the advantages of generous funding in building an opposition capable of carrying out the assigned task of sweeping the government away.

The goals of color revolutionaries are narrow and circumscribed and quite different from those of truly popular revolutions. Color revolutionaries care about toppling the current government, not about the government that follows. Not surprisingly, color revolution enthusiasts in the West are usually completely unaware of the nature and character of governments that have been swept to power by color revolutions. They celebrate the process, not the outcome. Unlike color revolutions, truly popular revolutions have been concerned first with establishing new systems of government and second with removing the existing government because it stood in the way of achieving this goal. Color revolutions, however, are inspired by no positive vision, only a negative one.

The beneficiaries of color revolutions have been neo-liberal governments committed to privatizing publicly-owned assets, providing a low-wage, low-tax environment for Western investors, eliminating tariffs and subsidies to please Western exporters, and signing up to integration into Nato to please the Pentagon. For all their boasting about being pro-democratic, color revolutions haven’t brought democratic governments to power (democratic in the sense of representing the interests of the mass of citizens.) Since the outcome of ostensibly pro-democracy revolutions cannot, therefore, be said to be truly democratic, why it is that color revolutionaries don’t try again, if, indeed, democracy, or at least, removal of oppressive antidemocratic governments, is their true aim? Surely, equipped with techniques of non-violent activism imparted by corporate foundation-supported educators for social change, a movement, emboldened by success in toppling one oppressive government, would have no trouble toppling another – or at least, giving it a good try. Yet the post-revolutionary governments of Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, which have been no better than the ones they replaced, and in the case of Serbia, far worse, have faced no popular insurrections that have threatened to bring them down.(7)

Consider the case of Georgia’s Rose Revolution. The popular insurrection that brought US-trained corporate lawyer, and George W. Bush-admirer, Mikhail Saakashvili to power, has not ushered in a new, democratic, day. Instead, Georgia has become decidedly less democratic and emphatically friendlier to US corporate and military interests.

Lincoln A. Mitchell, a Georgia expert at Columbia University says that,

“The reality is that the Saakashvili government is the fourth one-party state that Georgia has had during the last 20 years, going back to the Soviet period. And nowhere has this been more apparent than in the restrictions on media freedom.” (8)

According to Sozar Subari, Georgia’s ombudsman for human rights,

“That Georgia is on the road to democracy and has a free press is the main myth created by Georgia that the West has believed in. We have some of the best freedom-of-expression laws in the world, but in practice, the government is so afraid of criticism that it has felt compelled to raid media offices and to intimidate journalists and bash their equipment.” (9)

Indeed, so severe are the new government’s restrictions on the press that Nino Zuriashvili, a Georgian investigative journalist, says, “The paradox is that there was more media freedom before the Rose Revolution.” (10)

So why haven’t the Rose Revolutionaries trotted out their pro-democracy, non-violence techniques to oust the oppressive, anti-democratic and violence-prone Saakashvili (who sent troops to Iraq, started a war in South Ossetia, and sent riot police into the streets to bash the heads of demonstrators protesting the loss of their jobs)? One reason why is because they’re otherwise engaged doing Uncle Sam’s work elsewhere in the world. Instead of staying at home to topple the oppressive Saakashvili government, the non-violent, pro-democracy activists who helped organize the Rose Revolution have been “deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians” (11) but not Georgia.

Who deployed them abroad? Their employers, billionaire financier George Soros and “the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, or Canvas. The group is funded in part by the International Republican Institute, which many describe as the international arm of the GOP, and Washington-based Freedom House, which receives most of its funding from the U.S. government” (12) and is interlocked with the CIA. (13)

The other reason a second Rose Revolution hasn’t come along to sweep away the anti-democratic, pro-violence, Saakashvili is that while “U.S. support for Saakashvili resulted in a sharp increase in foreign aid to the Georgian government…funding for the advocacy groups that had been at the heart of the Rose Revolution dried up, forcing organizations to shut down programs that could monitor and challenge his decisions.” (14)

In other words, Washington cut off the funding that fuelled the Rose Revolution, and, predictably, without the impetus of generous funding, no grass-roots organized popular mobilization has arisen (or has, but is so starved for funds, and has such a low profile as a consequence, that nobody has noticed.) And yet pro-democracy, non-violence activists, who take money from imperialist governments and corporate foundations to train Belarusians, Iranians, Zimbabweans and Venezuelans to overthrow their governments, insist that color revolutions are not fuelled by Western lucre, but are grass-roots, independent, uprisings against oppression.

Finally, the idea that color revolutions are carried out non-violently, while also a pleasant thought, is without foundation. Engineered uprisings invariably arise in the context of implied or threatened violence, whether it is the persistent threat of non-violent demonstrators suddenly turning into a violent mob, or the threat of Western military intervention, lurking in the background of events related to efforts to oust the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe, and actual military intervention preceding the Serbian 5th October Overthrow.

Western-assisted revolutions have also been aided by the efforts of Western governments to destabilize target countries through economic warfare. The West imposed sanctions on the former Yugoslavia, and maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe and Belarus. As mentioned, these destabilizing efforts are accompanied by signals to the besieged population. Topple your government and the threats and sanctions end. These conditions (blackmail, in straightforward language) give birth to an incipient movement to overthrow the government, coalescing around the existing opposition. The hiring of full-time anti-government organizers, grants to establish “independent” media to shape public opinion, Voice of America and Radio Liberty broadcasts to further tilt public sentiment away from the local government, the hardships imposed by the West’s economic warfare, the training of activists in techniques of popular insurrection, diplomatic maneuvers to isolate the country internationally — these things together establish the conditions for the success of an engineered insurrection. At the same time, they challenge the idea that color revolutions are pure, spontaneous, and grass-roots-organized, not contrived, nurtured and facilitated from without.

Western-engineered insurrections cannot, then, serve as a paradigm for organizing in the West, for the ingredients essential to their success could never be expected in the foreseeable future to be present in the case of attempted popular revolutions in the US, UK, France or elsewhere in the Western world. The necessary crisis conditions, and the contingency between relief from the crisis and removal of the government, will have to arise independently of the will of Western ruling classes. In Serbia, Zimbabwe and Belarus, they have arisen owing to the will of Western ruling classes.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from attempted and successful color revolutions. There are two important lessons to be learned:

o Funding, and the organization that generous funding enormously facilitates, cannot be underestimated in its power to bring about disciplined mass mobilizations guided by clear and specific goals.
o Organizers serve the interests of those who provide the funding.

From this we can conclude that for a revolution to serve popular interests, its funding, unlike that of color revolutions (which have served Western corporate and military interests), must be popularly sourced. Non-popularly sourced leadership training, training in techniques of civil disobedience and insurrection, “independent” media and NGOs, serve the interests of their funders.

As regards the guilt by association of Stephen Zunes and his peers, it can be said that what they are guilty of is taking money from Western governments, ruling class foundations and wealthy individuals to train activists to topple foreign governments. The purpose of these activities, whether the guilty acknowledge it or not, is to clear the way for the ascension to power of reactionary dependent governments committed to catering to imperialist interests. What Zunes et al are associated with, then, are the outcomes of these insurrections – harsher, more uncertain, and certainly less democratic lives for the local populations, but enhanced profit-making opportunities for Western banks, corporations and investors. That the funding for these activities comes from Western governments, corporate-sponsored foundations and wealthy investors is no accident.

The argument of non-violent actionists and educators for social change that this funding contributes in no way to the success of antigovernment uprisings and in no way shapes their outcome is an obfuscation spurred by obvious self-interest. Those who take lucre from imperialist governments and corporate foundations to help bring to power foreign governments to cater to imperialist interests must be held accountable for the outcomes of their actions. They must not be allowed to hide behind the delusion that they’re only studying the dynamics of “popular revolutions” abroad in order to understand how to be bring about social change non-violently at home. Anyone who works diligently to overthrow foreign governments in order to clear the way for the more vigorous pursuit of imperialist interests can hardly be expected to be genuinely interested in bringing about truly democratic change at home.

1. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/the-war-over-south-ossetia/#comments
2. Zunes has been criticized from the left by Michael Barker, “Peace activists, criticism and non-violent imperialism,” MRZine, January 8, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/barker080108.html and “Sharp reflection warranted: Non-violence in the service of imperialism,” Swans Commentary, June 30, 2008, http://www.swans.com/library/art14/barker01.html; John Bellamy Foster, “Reply to Stephen Zunes on imperialism and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” MRZine, January 17, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/foster170108.html; George Ciccariello-Maher and Eva Golinger, “Making Excuses for Empire: Reply to Defenders of the AEI,” August 4, 2008, Venezuelanalysis.com, http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3690; Netfa Freeman, “Zimbabwe and the battle of ideas,” The Black Agenda Report, September 25, 2008, http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=node/10802; and Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/.
3. Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/ and “The war over South Ossetia,” September 4, 2008, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/the-war-over-south-ossetia/
4. Michael Barker, “Regulating revolutions in Eastern Europe,” ZNet, November 1, 2006, http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/2846
5. The funding that ruling class foundations and Western governments provide to left and progressive groups in the West is counter-revolutionary, intended to channel potential militancy into bureaucratic, litigious and electoral arenas where ruling class forces have the upper hand. Foundations are keen to support left groups that promote the idea that “we can change the world without taking power” and limit their goals to “pressuring elites”, i.e., leaving capitalist ruling class structures in place. Foundation grants are also used to upset the development of class consciousness by promoting identity politics and particularism. There is plenty of foundation funding available to support groups organized around women’s issues, ethnic media, gay, lesbian and transgender concerns, the elderly, and so on, but not for those working to create a working class conscious of its collective interests and place in history and the world. See Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, State University of New York Press, 2003.
6. Zimbabwe provides an example of how Western governments, media and foundations work together to destabilize target countries to promote anti-government uprisings. Western efforts to replicate Eastern European color revolutions in Zimbabwe have so far failed, possibly owing to the reality that the formula has become evident and target governments know what to expect and can take defensive actions. See Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/ and “US government report undermines Zimbabwe opposition’s claim of independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
7. For a summary of post-5th October Overthrow Serbia see Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/.
8. New York Times, October 7, 2008.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Borzou Daragahi “Soros’ Army: A Georgian soldier of the Velvet Revolution,” Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008
12. Ibid.
13. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, 1988, p. 28. 17.
14. Philip P. Pan, “Georgia, a nation stalled on the road to democracy,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2009.

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